Monthly Archives: April 2012


Film posterSynopsis

Directed by A. Schneider in 1965 and written by Samuel Becket, it’s a twenty minute film in black and white.  It stars Buster Keaton who plays an anonymous elderly man who meets a couple in a shabby bombsite and they tear up photographs.  Then he enters a derelict room.  We only see his back as he keeps moving around the room.  There is a Sumerien picture, photographs, and a mirror.  In the end he sees himself and looks astonished.


Becket wrote this as an illustration of the philosopher Bishop Berkeley’s teaching that to be is to be perceived, “esse ist percipi“.  It’s as if the old man is trying to find or correct something in the room.  He keeps moving about.  Does he try to avoid the metaphorical watcher which could be conscience or memory?  He keeps tearing up photos, so is it resistance to the demands of his past or his emotions, or is it the getaway from the BIG PERCEIVER, either self or God?  Becket acknowledges that our reality is based on being seen, either by others or by ourselves, so we can only bear witness to our own reality.  Buster Keaton was a big star of the silent screen, he was a genius of comedy and in this film we are reminded of his ability to make us laugh: his lugubrious face erupting into dismay and astonishment.  He looks a bit like Dali.  It seems he didn’t understand what Becket was getting at in this film.

If you find Berkeley’s philosophy persuasive then Film acts like reality itself and there is no boundary between this work of art and everyday activity.  Berkeley offered an ingenious solution to the problem of sense data which are the different perspectives we have on any object— a table looks completely different seen from the top or horizontally for example.  We cannot perceive every perspective, what does this whilst we don’t?  Berkeley believed that humanly unsensed sense data must exist in the mind of God (e.g. God hears the tree fall in the forest when no one else does), so this film seems to me to be a silent parable about our relationship with God, which we seek or avoid.  The Keaton character is like Vladimir and Estragon in Becket’s Waiting for Godot, they wait for Godot whereas Keaton has reluctantly found Godot.

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Posted by on April 27, 2012 in Classics, Film Reviews


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Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia posterSynopsis

Set on the Anatolian plateau in Turkey, it’s about the search for a murder victim.  Two suspects are trying to find the location of the buried.  The team, in two cars and an army jeep, is lead by the prosecutor (Taner Birsel) and the doctor (Muhammet Uzuner).  They stop a few times, they are searching at night.  On the way they talk about food and their families.  They stop at a farmhouse where the owner tries to get financial help for a cemetery wall.  The next day they find the corpse and take it into town for an autopsy.  There are tensions between the doctor and the prosecutor over the story of a pregnant woman who knew when she was to die.  Was the woman the wife of the prosecutor?


For the first hour and a half I was entranced by this film.  The cars driving through the Anatolian plateau looked like small toys on the desolate prairie.  When the group stop at some trees to look for the possible location of the body, the trees rattle in ghostly metallic shades in the wind against which there is no shelter.  When lightning flares, it exposes rocks and trees with hallucinatory clarity.  When the police are not talking about yoghurt (rather like Travolta and Jackson talking about cheeseburgers in Pulp Fiction) or about their health and family troubles, they talk poetically about the impermanence of their lives and how little effect any human designs can have on this ageless bleak terrain.  The sheer emptiness of the plateau seems to make any human activity look starkly ritualistic (as when they found the buried body).

The prosecutor and the doctor talk about the case of a woman who knew she was going to die, the doctor is a rationalist and the prosecutor accepts mystery.  The police chief (Yilmaz Erdogen) is a brute on a tight leash.  He is old school, wanting to beat the information out of the suspects.  The prosecutor has to remind him that application for EU entry cannot be squared with his brutality.  The police chief lectures the suspects on the need to earn privileges (like smoking cigarettes), showing that facet of the authoritarian mind in using the supposed exemplary moral behaviour rectification.  In other words, he tells them to work hard like the prosecutor and they will be deserving.  When they all stay at a farmhouse, they are served by the farmer’s beautiful daughter.  She is shown walking with a lamp through the night gloom and it looks biblical.  The lamplight is all rich gold against the Anatolian night.  The next day they find the dead body hog-tied in a shallow grave.  They get into more Pulp Fiction macho jokiness.  They have no body bag, so they wrap the corpse in a blanket and they have to shove it in the back of the car.  This could have been blackly comical but Ceylan (the director) resists that temptation.

If the film had shown them getting back to the town and doing a brisk autopsy, then it would have been a fitting ending to a starkly beautiful film.  Unfortunately we get a wearingly long scene in the autopsy lab.  The camera dwells on the faces of the doctor and the prosecutor for too much time and I became exasperated.  The director, Ceylan, says he is interested in boredom, like Marcel Proust who was thrilled by it.  Nothing wrong with that, but does it mean that he must inflict it on the audience with long boring shots of people doing nothing?  I suspect the reason for these very lingering camera gazes is that the doctor suspects that the woman in the prosecutor’s story is the prosecutor’s wife.  The prosecutor needs to believe that the woman would not take her own life.  An enchanting film on the plateau, in the town during daylight it was a tedious ordeal and could have been edited by at least half an hour.  No doubt posh critics loved this bit.

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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews, World cinema


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The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods posterSynopsis

This whole review is a spoiler so maybe it’s best to read it after you’ve seen the film.  It’s about a group of young students: blonde Jules (Anne Hutchison), athletic boyfriend Curt (Chris Hensworth), Holden (Jesse Williams), Dana who’s had a relationship with a professor, and Marty (Fran Krantze) who is a dope smoking gadfly.  They get to a cabin in the wilderness where they fight zombies, getting killed off except for two of them.  They are observed by scientists in a spectator laboratory, one scientist is Sitterson  (Richard Jenkins)  and the other is Hadley (Bradley Whitford) and they work with  a team.  After adventures with monsters on an elevator ride the two survivors meet Sigourney Weaver who tells them they are sacrificial victims: “The Athlete”, “The Whore”, “The Virgin”, “The Fool”, and “The Scholar”.  Such sacrifices are demanded by the “Ancients” who live underground and control the scientists.


This film succeeds in parodying the horror genre which we thought had exhausted parody.  For decades we have seen mostly young people being subjected to grisly deaths that are lovingly shown in special effects.  The zombies are like those in any cheesy film.  This is such a derivative film (it is reputed to include ideas or details from a hundred other films) that it examines in comic detail its many offences against originality.  This film delights in its genre cannibalism and provides another perspective on our love of brutality.  Cabin in the Woods takes our fascination with horror for granted, so at first it doesn’t even bother to be inventive like, for example, Jeepers Creepers.  Only when the two survivors get into the underground hi-tech playground do things get a little imaginative.  Here the film is a bit like The Hunger Games insofar as young people are sacrificed in a spectator game for the jaded appetites of the hi-tech manipulators.  With its crude zombies Cabin is even more derivative than Hunger Games.  The scientist with his 1950s appearance (he looks like James Dean’s dad or like a scientist out of Independence Day) displays a jokey callousness that has become the default mode of people too weird to need explaining.

When the two survivors meet Sigourney Weaver (who herself has acquired the habit of last minute walk on parts in films), and she tells them about the Ancients and their desire for sacrifice, we are getting into Joseph Conrad’s “the Masks of God” mythology.  The five young people are archetypes, their images crudely scrawled in stone plaques.  Here is a good idea for a sci-fi film.  Cabin in the Woods is an amusingly ironic exercise in cinematic references.  The film would do better to improve on the horror genre rather than competing with reality T.V,  It shouldn’t bother, it should try to tell a good story with minimally applied special effects.

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Posted by on April 21, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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Headhunters posterSynopsis

Based on Jo Nesbo’s work and set in Norway. The voice over is Roger Brown (Askel Hennie) who works as a headhunter recruiting people for international companies.  Roger has a supermodel wife, Diana (Synnove Macody Lund), and he subsidizes her art gallery by burgling paintings.  Roger wants a certain Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coaster Waldau) to work for Pathfinder, a conglomerate operating from Oslo.  Roger also wants to steal a Rubens from him.  Greve is a special forces veteran who is after Roger, who found his partner in crime poisoned in his car. Roger has a needy girlfriend.  He is on the run from Greve, he hides in excrement, impales a dog attacking him, then is driven off a road and meets up with Greve.  Is Roger’s wife in a conspiracy with Greve to kill Roger…….?


We’ve got used to Scandinavian detective stories and Nesbo seems to be even more violent than Stig Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo trilogy.  Roger’s view of his material success is cheerfully cynical, he admits he must compensate for his physical inferiority vis a vis his glamorous wife.  He is a Thomas Crown figure, suave and ready to outwit and undermine rivals.  This carefully contrived top baboon pose falls apart when he is on the run from the murderous Greve (who reminds me of the Edward Fox assassin in Day of the Jackal, the cold European killing  machine). The murderous pursuit turns into black comedy: Roger has to hide in shit and then drives a tractor with the dog he has killed impaled on it.  He survives falling off a mountain and realizes that Greve can track him because of transmitters in his hair, so he shaves his head.  Then there is the showdown with Greve which is a brinkmanship of deception and outwitting.  How is this different from the humorous attitude to violence in Quentin Tarantino films?  I suppose because it’s a comedy of accidents.  Roger has to cope with things going disastrously wrong, whereas in Tarantino there is a casually disdainful attitude to death and violence.  If you say that the showing of violence can be excused if it has a purpose, then why not just show only the results of the violence?  Purpose or not, this film is addicted to it.  Roger cannot trust anyone in the end.  Is his wife in league with Greve?

This is all obviously influenced by American crime dramas, their different formulae tried out in popular entertainment.  The difference between Nesbo, Stig Larsson, The Killing, Wallender, and their UK and US counterparts is that Scandinavia does seem gloomy (not much sun), tough guys cultivate nerdish weirdness and existential philosophy, and most of the characters seem either manic depressive or verging on it.  We were brought up in Britain with the view that Sweden, Denmark, and Norway are welfare state paradises and now we see their dark heart, but why now?  Nothing much is added to the crime genre, but it’s entertaining enough.


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Carancho posterSynopsis

Set in present Argentina, it’s about Sosa (Ricardo Darin) who is a Carancho (Spanish for vulture), he is a lawyer who gets traffic accident victims inadequate compensation owing to his firms syphoning off from the full amount, his firm is “The Foundation”. There is a paramedic Lujan (Martina Gusman) who is initially suspicious of  Sosa but who responds to his friendly approaches.  She is a drug addict who finds herself tainted by association with Sosa and she is beaten up by Sosa’s Foundation colleague.  In order to get a client to pick up money, he uses a sledgehammer on the client’s leg to fake an accident when the client throws himself at a car.  The client dies.  Sosa is in conflict with clients and the Foundation.  He wants away, he and Lujan go on the run…


It starts off well, like a sort of docudrama where Lujan and her colleague Pico pick up calls and go to the aid of the accident victims.  It’s all in hectic close up, the grimness of their job accentuated by the lonely roadways and the gloomy underfunded wards which in E.R. would scarcely qualify as broom cupboards.  The office Sosa works in is tacky and claustrophobic like in Darin’s other film Secrets in their Eyes.  Ricardo Darin is likeable in that other film, here he starts out as a beaten up ‘Vulture’ and ends up as a thug on the run.  It’s difficult to feel any sympathy for him.  He seems to have an attack of conscience and strives for full compensation for one or two accident victims but he’s too dirtied by his ambulance chasing job.  He looks like the scavenger he is, grey faced and battered, sniffing around other people’s tragedies.

Lujan starts out as a good looking, self possessed young professional who wouldn’t take any nonsense from any man, so her relationship with Sosa looks like a weary capitulation rather than anything convincing, more like a fantasy of male wish fulfilment rather than anything realistic.  Indeed she falls apart and is passive about her life being in danger.  When she gets beaten up by the Foundation goon, Sosa takes predictable macho revenge, none of the main characters turn to the law which for the plot convenience is of course wholly corrupt.  What starts out as a seemingly realistic look at accident tragedies in Argentina (the statistics are huge and horrifying) ends up in the second half succumbing to conventional macho thuggery and gangster crime with gunfights added at the end.  This is not a screw tightening of plot tension and plausibility, it’s a surrender to the entertainment imperatives of mainstream cinema.  Anyway, it’s more glamorous than showing hospital staff martyred by tragedy and overwork, isn’t it?  It’s the usual hypercritical celebration of violence, supposedly justified by the “choreography” of the flash camera work as if there isn’t enough violence in traffic accidents.  We get a few scenes of grieving women and angry men as if to lend moral possibilities to Sosa’s work.  He lost his license (we are never told why) and he wants to go straight but doesn’t seem to have the means to get free of his ghoulish work (unless it’s to get his hands on a lot of money).  In how many films have we seen this, the guy who wants to be decent and to get away but who leaves corpses in his blood strewn means of escape?  The later part lets this film down.

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Posted by on April 6, 2012 in Film Reviews, World cinema


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